Our identification of Deir ‘Ain ‘Abata as the ancient Sanctuary of Saint Lot is confirmed by a 1,500-year-old source: a mosaic map of the Holy Land on the floor of the Church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan, about 20 miles south of Amman. The map is 35 feet wide and is made up of more than 700,000 small ceramic tiles. It is the oldest existing map of Palestine; it was probably created during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527–565), who commissioned some of the most impressive churches depicted on the map.
The Madaba map was discovered in the early 1880s by a group of displaced Greek Orthodox Christians who had received permission from the Ottoman rulers to build churches (but only on the site of previously existing churches). As the immigrants cleared the rubble of an ancient church at Madaba, they uncovered the map.
The Madaba map has survived centuries of depredation—erosion, damage by fire, looters and rodents. The extant fragments depict the Holy Land from Phoenicia in the north to Egypt in the south, and from the Mediterranean in the west to the desert east of the Dead Sea. The focus of the map is clearly Jerusalem, which is depicted far out of proportion to the rest of the map and is remarkably detailed: visible are city gates, major streets and, most importantly, a dozen churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
For us, though, what mattered was a far more humble feature on the map: the Sanctuary of Saint Lot, depicted southeast of the Dead Sea (at center in the detail). Its location on the map matches the position of Deir ‘Ain ‘Abata—our first clue that the site was the sacred place associated with Lot.—K.P.